Monthly Archives: July 2008

Feeling calmer now

I didn’t post yesterday because I was having a ‘mare of a day dealing with various administrative things in Brussels and here and the entry would have been one long rant. And no-one wants that, do they! But I met a friend after work and went to Watch this Space and that went a long way to calming me down.

I was at the Spanish Embassy this morning for the awards to the schools in the UK that teach Spanish best. I went along because quite a few of the people involved in the Arsenal Double Club were there. That project is winning its own award next week, so we have been thinking about how to get word out about it. I tried some different angles – Observer Sports Monthly, Times Education – but I’m not hopeful. Shame, because I think it’s a great story on many levels. They were saying at the awards today that Spanish is rising in popularity as a foreign language, partly because of cultural things such as seeing big stars like Antonia Banderas, Penelope Cruz and J-Lo working and talking in both languages, and the growing role of Hispanic culture in the US. I think the number of Spanish sportpeople here is an issue too – is it a coincidence that 2 of the schools are from Liverpool, where both the red and blue teams have Spanish players? We have a report out from the Commission tomorrow about languages and business, and apparently it is a big issue here in the UK – the business community often complain about the UK’s lack of language skills. I know from personal experience that having those skills was a huge advantage for working while I was at college – I did telemarketing in German and worked as receptionist at a language school and got both of those jobs because I spoke foreign languages.

By the way the salt cellar story was definitely a Euro-myth – though not a total myth. Apparently Gateshead Council came up with the idea and Rochdale are trialing it during Salt Awareness Week. The article from the Daily Mail was pretty positive about the idea, as were the vox pops they talked to. I can’t imagine it would have been like that if the suggestion had come from the EU…would you like double standards with those chips, sir?

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Women in the world

Interesting debate going on over on the Guardian website, about the position of women in society and especially politics. I was astonished to be told when I took on this post that I am the first woman head of media in London. I never thought to be the first woman anything in my life – I kind of assumed that the generation before had done all the trail-blazing that had to be done. I’m kind of proud of it, but also slightly appalled that it’s taken to 2008 to get there.

Margot Wallstrom was over in London a few weeks ago and during an interview she made an interesting point – is it any wonder that people feel out of touch with the EU when you see the “family photo” from the summit and it is overwhelmingly middle-aged white men? How can you expect young people, people of colour or women to associate themselves with that when they don’t see anyone that could possibly represent them. I’m not a fan of tokenism – I don’t agree that “women” vote a particular way or “young people” – of course there are differences of views across our gender and within different ethnic groups. But if they see *no-one* that seems to have the slightest clue where they are coming from, it’s off-putting at best, disenfranchising at worst. Are we ever going to get to a stage where people don’t comment when all the people representing the Commission at an event, from Commissioner down, are women? I was at an event like that a weekor so ago – would it have invited comment if we had all been men?

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The role of on-line media

An extremely interesting piece by Paul Mason of Newsnight was brought to my attention yesterday, looking at the future of the tabloids as on-line media gain ground. I believe that in this job I need to be looking at the media in its entirety and not just the traditional press, whether broadsheet or tabloid. People get their news and views from many different sources nowadays and it’s important that we are aware of what is being said, and being available for those that want to ask questions or cover our issues. The glory of the new on-line media is that you get two-way communication, so you can quickly see what audiences/viewers/listeners think.

This all ties in with what I heard at the National Association of Broadcasters when I was in Vegas – lots of head-scratching going on there about how new technologies would affect the traditional news media. We at the Commission could be accused of hardly having got to grips with the advent of television, so I’m keen we don’t make the same mistake with the on-line world.

I had a call a few days ago from an English-language newspaper in Spain, who wanted to know how many people we had here and what we do. There are currently 4 of us working in the media team (a fifth is away on maternity leave and there is no cover). The overwhelming part of our work is answering questions from journalists on whatever it is they want to know about. These range from political desks at national newspapers to specialist trade press, or local newspapers, or on-line media. We are often asked to defend the Commission’s position on an issue on radio or television. We also feed information back to Brussels about what is in the press here and liaise with them to have the correct information so we can answer the questions we get. Of course we maintain the website with a flow of up-to-date information on the big stories relating to the Commission. We organise briefings for the press on issues that they are particularly interested in, such as the recent proposal to allow people to get healthcare in another EU country. We handle the press angle of events in the UK organised or supported by the Commission – such as the recent refugee camp in Trafalgar Square. And when Commissioners come, we are required to deal with their press programme. So more than enough to keep four of us busy!

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Chirpy chirpy cheep cheep

According to the Open europe blog, I am “extremely chirpy” – does this count as them saying something positive about Europe? They also say I use too many exclamation marks – a fact of which I am well aware (I also use too many hyphens and brackets as well). Still, nice to know someone’s reading! <– HA!

Was at the launch of the NT’s Watch This Space festival on Friday. It started with a meeting with all the cultural attaches of the different member states and people from the UK’s various arts councils, which was really interesting. For the launch, we watched Tango Sumo and then headed back to the Deck area at the top of the National for the reception. Angus had lined up two of the acts – Mala Sangre, a flamenco group and a couple who juggled and danced. Sounds weird, but was amazing. Highlight of the evening for me was meeting Nicholas Hytner, who directed the best thing I’ve ever seen in a theatre, His Dark Materials. More being starstruck, after Thursday.

Weekend was fun, with the goodbye party of the people whose house I will be renting on Saturday, so I met loads of new people, then recovery and Wimbledon final on Sunday – what a game! I was just so glad I didn’t have an emotional investment in either player, cos I think I would have expired long before the end.

Got in early today as I’m leaving early, so I did the daily video-conference with Brussels. Found out that we are negotiating with the UK Government so that people can write to the Commission on Scottish Gaelic and Welsh, like we already have with the Spanish government for their non-Castilian languages. Also some nonsense written by Terry Wogan of all people about an EU directive on how many holes salt-cellars have to have. I can only assume (hope?) that it was a piss-take, but the way it is written I’m sure there are people who will believe it is true.

I also followed up a comment written on Mark Mardell’s blog about the healthcare plans, when someone wrote that “Not once in their 50-year history has the EU Commission ever proposed to return a power previously acquired by them back to the democratic arena of the nation-state”. Not true. The marketing standards for fruit and veg is a recent example. Today we proposed a block exemption which would return a lot of state aid decisions to the Member State level. We have undertaken a whole bunch of simplifications, recasts and repeals of legislation to decrease the administrative burden on business in particular. And that’s just a morning’s work – I’m sure there are many other examples to be found.

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Totally starstruck

Back in the office after the trip to Liverpool. And what a trip it was! I got up there on time to make sure the cars were there, before the President and his entourage arrived. we drove to Liverpool and once we had all checked in and put our stuff in our rooms, a few of us headed down to Albert Dock. it was about 10.30 by this time, but still worth it – the regeneration that has gone on there is amazing. Still, it was quite a long walk, particularly in heels!

The next morning we headed over to the university for the honorary graduation ceremony. There was a journalist from the Liverpool Post and the Europe by Satellite team, so they got all the preparations. There was all the usual pomp of a graduation ceremony – in fact it was his honorary degree but also the graduation of the Masters and BA students from the Department of Social and Environmental Studies, so loads of politics students. After the ceremony was over, we walked to the Metropolitan (Catholic) cathedral and there were quite a few students doing their graduation photos over there – several came up and asked to have their picture taken with the President and one guys mother ran down the street to get him to sign the graduation book, saying how pleased the guy had been to have the President there for his graduation. Really nice to see people being so positive.

Once the ceremony was over the day got REALLY fun. First we headed off to the Vice-Chancellor’s Lodge for a very nice lunch. The day’s other honorary graduand was there, so I can now say that I have had lunch with Elvis Costello and Diana Krall! After lunch we headed down to the Liverpool Tate, where we were met by the Gallery’s Director and various luminaries from Liverpool’s City of Culture including Phil Redmond! We visited the Klimt Exhibition and then some of the 20th Century Art collection. All very impressive. I did lots of PR for Lewis’s book and in fact Phil Redmond had already bought it on the recommendation of the Chairman of the North West Arts Council, so Lewis has some heavyweight fans! After a cup of tea and a biscuit at the gallery while the President talked to the city leaders about the renaissance of Liverpool (and the role played by EU funding!), we did a short press point outside, then back in the cars and off to the airport. It was a great day all round. What really impressed me, and the President I think, was the way that the whole city has embraced the City of Culture – there was even a City of Culture prayer in the Cathedral! I was talking to the local media people and they were saying that the biggest thing it has done is made people elsewhere in the UK appreciate what Liverpool has to offer, and get beyond the “jolly scouser” or “scally” stereotypes. I guess it shows the link between culture and economic development – that there’s more to doing these thigns than pleasing the elite – it actually brings something to a city or region. Hopefully we can get that message through to some of the people in Brussels as well!

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Your right to get treatment in another EU country

A crazy day today, with the announcement about the proposal to clarify an individual’s rights to get healthcare in another country. We came in this morning to find it was front page of the Daily Mail – positive EU coverage on the front page of the Mail!! An expert in the issue had come over from Luxembourg – an old friend, Nick Fahy – who did a great briefing for the press. We had quite a few people there, from the big papers, BBC Online and a specialist journal. It was very helpful for me if I end up having to answer any questions about it, as he really covered chapter and verse. The thing to remember if you are reading this is that these are rights that exist already – the directive will just codify and clarify them as set out in a series of European Court of Justice judgements since 1998. So you don’t have to wait the three years or whatever for it to come into force, if you want to exercise your right to go elsewhere (though you might have a bit of a tussle with your healthcare system!).

Off to Liverpool this afternoon, which will be my first “representational” trip. Quite looking forward to it, particularly as it is so focused on media and culture (European City of Culture!) so right up my street.

Got the new housemate coming in to sign his lease as well; I signed mine last night. I also found out yesterday that I will complete my house purchase in France on Tuesday – had to do a power of attorney for my father to sign the “acte authentique” as it is called because I wasn’t going to be able to get away. So home-ownership is but a few days away.

And if you’re wondering where all the hayfever whinging has gone, I have fabulous new pills which actually WORK! They’re called Aerius, prescription only and I cannot recommend them highly enough. The beneficial side-effect is that they really don’t mix with alcohol, so I’ve stopped drinking. It’s worth it to be able to function as a human being for most of the week!

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Pif Paf Pof

It’s in the Scottish papers today that Alyn Smith MEP is starting a campaign for Scotland to have its own entry to the Eurovision song contest. There’s quite a lot to be said for that (ie it might have a chance of doing well!). But actually the first year’s entry is already written – don’t know who remembers “The High Life” but one of the best episodes was their Eurovision entry. You can see the song here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5rhrX7aYeNk

I’m still giggling.

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